By Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director, Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T
In 2017, when AT&T won the contract to build the first nationwide communications platform for first responders, it recognized the tremendous impact that public safety has on the health and wellness of local communities. So in May 2020, as a part of its commitment to build and maintain FirstNet, it established the FirstNet Health and Wellness Program.
AT&T established the program to coordinate and plan for how the organization would support the health and wellness of first responders – integrating academic, community, industry, and organizational capabilities. And it established strategic objectives to help achieve optimal health and wellness for America’s first responders, including:
- Identifying first responder health and wellness priorities
- Developing targeted strategies to support first responder members
- Collaborating on solutions
- And sharing best practices and lessons learned
Scientific Basis of FirstNet Health and Wellness
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Program is built on the socio-ecological model of health. This is a systems theory model that posits we can influence health at different levels of inter-related systems. These include individual, relationship (family, friends, groups, units), community (workplace, schools, cities, towns, etc.), and society (including federal, government, organizational influence).
We built the FirstNet Health and Wellness Program at the societal system level. And AT&T is positioned to use organizational resources and partnerships to influence the health of the first responders it serves.
The socio-ecological model of prevention has been found to be an effective theoretical lens to view complex problems that straddle various populations. And it shows that there is a role in which we can favorably influence health through different interventions.
The goal of public safety is to support, “a secure and resilient nation with capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”
A critical component of the public safety infrastructure is the people. That’s why the FirstNet Health and Wellness program considers the health and wellness needs of first responders as a critical aspect of the health of FirstNet. Without the people, the network would not be adaptable, resilient, and able to respond to public safety needs at a moment’s notice.
The FirstNet Health and Wellness program integrates the National Association for City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) Mobilizing Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) process and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Health Improvement Framework. These frameworks and processes provide systematic and evidence-based processes for AT&T to navigate the complex health problems that face the first responders it serves.
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Program Process
In the FirstNet Health and Wellness framework, we addressed the health of a population through a step-by-step strategic planning process that included:
- Convening the stakeholders
- Developing a vision
- Developing, compiling, analyzing and assessing – identifying the problems, the scope, the perceptions, and existing resources
- Identifying priorities
- Developing SMART Action Plans for the priorities
- Implementing the plans
- Evaluating the outcome
- Making recommendations for the future
The FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition (FNHWC) Structure
Public safety is a unique population. It spans multiple professions, organizations, and command structures. And there is no single point of policy or command entry to facilitate change at a global or federal level.
So, the success of addressing broad first responder health needs is based on collaboration, partnerships, influence, and consensus. Thereby the stakeholders unite with a collective voice to address the needs of their members.
As a result, a critical component of the FirstNet Health and Wellness program is to bring together the stakeholders and leadership of the diverse public safety disciplines. This way, AT&T can strategically identify priorities and reach consensus on the most effective way to support first responders. This includes over 20 major public safety organizations, which now make up the FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition. Coalitions have been found to be an effective means for creating a network of partnerships across multidisciplinary organizations to create change.
The Health and Wellness of First Responders
For AT&T, our population of concern is first responders. Evidence clearly indicates first responders face significant health threats from the work that they do. First responders experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and other comorbidities at rates greater than the general population.
We also know that across all public safety disciplines or professions, one of the main concerns is the health and safety of their people.
Health and safety are common themes despite the different roles these professions execute in the public safety field. However, “health and safety” is a broad and complex concept. To effectively demonstrate and achieve outcomes, we need to peel the onion to reveal the issues that face public safety.
An evidence-based approach to identifying priorities is conducting a needs assessment in addition to a systematic assessment of health surveillance systems and databases. Consequently, the FNHWC deployed the First Responder Needs Assessment in December 2020 to help frame its prioritization efforts. This assessment identified the top health and wellness priorities for our stakeholders, barriers to them accessing resources in the areas, and identifying how they want to get help in the identified priority areas.
Once we identified priorities, the next step is establishing working groups to focus on building action plans to address the priorities. This will formalize how the coalition addresses the priorities. Evidence has shown that well-developed action plans are more likely to lead to the health outcomes groups are trying to achieve. It also helps to formalize roles and responsibilities, establish timelines and budgets, create SMART objectives to drive evaluation, and engage expertise to create interventions and solutions that are valuable to our stakeholders.
The Way Ahead
Organizations have a duty to support the health and wellness of the communities they live in, work and serve. By collaborating with stakeholders in public safety, FirstNet, Built with AT&T, is integrating health and wellness into the mission of FirstNet infrastructure. This type of strategic engagement in the health and wellness of first responders is unparalleled. We realized that the role of AT&T in public safety is about more than delivering the broadband capability of FirstNet. It is also about being there for our customers and engaging in efforts that address the most pressing problems facing them as a result of the work they do.
About the Author
Dr. Anna Fitch Courie, Director, Responder Wellness, FirstNet Program at AT&T, is a nurse, Army wife, former university faculty, and author. Dr. Courie has worked for over 20 years in the health care profession including Bone Marrow Transplant, Intensive Care, Public Health, and Health Promotion practice. Dr. Courie holds a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Clemson University; a Master’s in Nursing Education from the University of Wyoming; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Ohio State University. Dr. Courie’s area of expertise is integration of public health strategy across disparate organizations to achieve health improvement goals.
Free Webinar on June 16, 2021. The FirstNet Health and Wellness Coalition: A Strategic Approach to Addressing First Responder Health and Wellness